With Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use. 102 minutes.
It’s hard to say what people were expecting out of JENNIFER’S BODY, but between Megan Fox in the title role and Diablo Cody’s first script since “Juno,” one would think anything less than the best film of the year was a crashing disappointment. Why? Megan Fox is attractive but her most notable work to date has been the “Transformers” movies, where she was used as little more than eye candy among the giant robots. “Juno” was an offbeat and entertaining comedy but Cody’s arch dialogue, while great fun to listen to, did not immediately plant her in the pantheon with Shakespeare and Shaw.
So now they’ve teamed up with director Karyn Kusama, who did the arthouse hit “Girlfight” and the science fiction dud “Aeon Flux” for a fresh twist on the teen horror film. The result is original and often amusing, and if it doesn’t have you shrieking with terror it at least has some genuinely creepy moments. It’s a solid effort with Fox using her sex bomb image to good effect as the film’s monster, and Amanda Seyfried, who was one of the worst things about the dreadful “Mamma Mia,” demonstrating she can do much better when working with a real filmmaker.
Cody’s twist is that both the monster and protagonist are girls, while the boys are the ones reduced to screaming victims. The sexual politics are not quite at the level of the indie horror film “Teeth,” but it’s there. Jennifer (Fox) is head cheerleader and the girl lusted after by the boys. The geeky Needy (Seyfried wearing glasses) is her closest friend, defying all expectations of their being in different worlds. One night Jennifer takes Needy to a local dive to hear a visiting band and a fire breaks out. Jennifer runs off with the band and when Needy sees her next, she’s covered in blood and ravenously hungry.
Something – revealed later in the film – has happened to Jennifer. She now feasts on her male victims to keep herself going. As Needy suspects what is going on, Jennifer starts making eyes at Chip (Johnny Simmons), Needy’s boyfriend. We know a showdown is inevitable, especially since the film opens with Needy locked up as a violent mental patient.
Along the way we get the expected horror moments, and we get Cody’s dialogue which is as much fun to listen to as it must be to deliver. At one point Needy sums up the movie – and perhaps all adolescence – when she explains that Jennifer is evil. When Chip agrees she says, “No, I mean she’s actually evil. Not high school evil.” Needy also gets the film’s wry closing line which leads to the images during the closing credits where the story continues. You’ll want to stick around.
Cody, Fox, Kusama and Seyfried will likely have better work ahead of them, but in different ways “Jennifer’s Body” represents a small step forward for each of them. It’s one of those rare teen horror movies that can be enjoyed rather than simply endured.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.